Fed's Mester says gradual rate hikes still appropriate after jobs report

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester takes part in a panel convened to speak about the health of the U.S. economy in New York November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The latest disappointing U.S. jobs number has not changed the overall economic picture and gradual rate hikes remain appropriate, Cleveland Federal Reserve President Loretta Mester said on Saturday. The Fed raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade. But further tightening has proven hard to achieve, and most economists now see the next move in September. "I still believe that in order to achieve our monetary policy goals, a gradual upward pace of the funds rate is appropriate," Mester, a voting member on Fed policy this year, told reporters in the Swedish capital. "The timing of actually when the rate hikes would occur and the slope of that gradual path is data-dependent." Fed policy-makers next meet on June 14-15 to decide on rates. The U.S. economy added just 38,000 jobs in May, well below the consensus estimate of 164,000 and the smallest gain since September 2010. "You can't read too much into one number, but it is certainly part of the data that will be taken into account as we go into the June FOMC meeting and for the rest of the year," Mester said. "I think that the weak employment number has not changed fundamentally my economic outlook." In a speech, Mester also weighed in to the debate about the role of monetary policy in heading off financial imbalances saying the Fed should only resort to using interest rates if other more precise tools fail. "If our macro prudential tools proved to be inadequate and financial stability risks continued to grow, I believe monetary policy should be on the table as a possible defense," she said. As the Fed approaches a potential rate hike as soon as this summer, one reason to act sooner than later is to head off any brewing instabilities in risky corners of financial markets such as commercial real estate, where high valuations have attracted some recent concern. So far the Fed's approach has been to use financial regulations and supervision of banks and other firms - so-called macro prudential tools - to head off any emerging risks. "Financial stability should not be added as a third objective for monetary policy," said Mester. (Reporting by Simon Johnson and Daniel Dickson; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Simon Johnson; Editing by Diane Craft)